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A fascinating, accessible introduction to Islam from the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Zealot INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • A finalist for the Guardian First Book Award In No god but God, internationally acclaimed scholar Reza Aslan explains Islam—the origins and evolution of the faith—in all its beauty and complexity. This updated edition addresses the events of A fascinating, accessible introduction to Islam from the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Zealot INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • A finalist for the Guardian First Book Award In No god but God, internationally acclaimed scholar Reza Aslan explains Islam—the origins and evolution of the faith—in all its beauty and complexity. This updated edition addresses the events of the past decade, analyzing how they have influenced Islam’s position in modern culture. Aslan explores what the popular demonstrations pushing for democracy in the Middle East mean for the future of Islam in the region, how the Internet and social media have affected Islam’s evolution, and how the war on terror has altered the geopolitical balance of power in the Middle East. He also provides an update on the contemporary Muslim women’s movement, a discussion of the controversy over veiling in Europe, an in-depth history of Jihadism, and a look at how Muslims living in North America and Europe are changing the face of Islam. Timely and persuasive, No god but God is an elegantly written account that explains this magnificent yet misunderstood faith.


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A fascinating, accessible introduction to Islam from the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Zealot INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • A finalist for the Guardian First Book Award In No god but God, internationally acclaimed scholar Reza Aslan explains Islam—the origins and evolution of the faith—in all its beauty and complexity. This updated edition addresses the events of A fascinating, accessible introduction to Islam from the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Zealot INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • A finalist for the Guardian First Book Award In No god but God, internationally acclaimed scholar Reza Aslan explains Islam—the origins and evolution of the faith—in all its beauty and complexity. This updated edition addresses the events of the past decade, analyzing how they have influenced Islam’s position in modern culture. Aslan explores what the popular demonstrations pushing for democracy in the Middle East mean for the future of Islam in the region, how the Internet and social media have affected Islam’s evolution, and how the war on terror has altered the geopolitical balance of power in the Middle East. He also provides an update on the contemporary Muslim women’s movement, a discussion of the controversy over veiling in Europe, an in-depth history of Jihadism, and a look at how Muslims living in North America and Europe are changing the face of Islam. Timely and persuasive, No god but God is an elegantly written account that explains this magnificent yet misunderstood faith.

30 review for No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam

  1. 4 out of 5

    Susan Johnson

    Our Bible study class decided we wanted to learn something about Muslims. We were woefully ignorant on the subject and needed to learn something about the religion. Someone recommended this book and it turned out to be a great choice. I have to be up front that I knew nothing about Muhammad and so it was great place to begin. One thing that came as a surprise to me was that Muhammad, like Jesus, did appreciate women and their contributions. It was the followers who came after both of them that t Our Bible study class decided we wanted to learn something about Muslims. We were woefully ignorant on the subject and needed to learn something about the religion. Someone recommended this book and it turned out to be a great choice. I have to be up front that I knew nothing about Muhammad and so it was great place to begin. One thing that came as a surprise to me was that Muhammad, like Jesus, did appreciate women and their contributions. It was the followers who came after both of them that twisted their message. Muhammad married an older woman, Khadija, a wealthy and respected businesswoman. He was in a monogamous relationship with her until she died. He valued her and she was his advisor, advocate, lover and friend. The book goes into the many sects of Islam. It's very much like Christianity that varies from Catholics to Mormons to Jehovah's Witnesses to Evangicals.It seems like we have many similarities but there are also cultural differences. I really learned a great deal and don't feel as ignorant as I did before. It's a great jumping off place to expand your horizons.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Reza Aslan - from The Guardian Aslan has produced what should be required reading for anyone with an interest in things Islamic, whether that interest be religious or geopolitical. He makes clear that there are several types of Islam, and that fanatical, fundamentalist Wahabism is not the only brand on the market. I found the book eye-opening. The only reason I did not go for that 5th star is that the text can get quite dry, and in the early going was a sure cure for consciousness. But it was we Reza Aslan - from The Guardian Aslan has produced what should be required reading for anyone with an interest in things Islamic, whether that interest be religious or geopolitical. He makes clear that there are several types of Islam, and that fanatical, fundamentalist Wahabism is not the only brand on the market. I found the book eye-opening. The only reason I did not go for that 5th star is that the text can get quite dry, and in the early going was a sure cure for consciousness. But it was well worth the effort to stick with it. It is not only important to know one's enemy, but also one's potential and even current friends. =============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages His latest book is God: A Human History, published in 2017

  3. 5 out of 5

    Conrad

    An astounding work. This book really took the top of my head off. Aslan is an excellent writer, and the book isn't too academic, but his command of Arabic and, at the same time, comprehensive familiarity with not one but at least three or four different English translations of the Quran (and the misunderstandings that result therefrom) makes this well worth reading. Aslan makes a strong case for the Hijaz as a place of prelapsarian cultural intermingling for Jews, Christians, and Muslims; his po An astounding work. This book really took the top of my head off. Aslan is an excellent writer, and the book isn't too academic, but his command of Arabic and, at the same time, comprehensive familiarity with not one but at least three or four different English translations of the Quran (and the misunderstandings that result therefrom) makes this well worth reading. Aslan makes a strong case for the Hijaz as a place of prelapsarian cultural intermingling for Jews, Christians, and Muslims; his portrait of Muhammad makes the Prophet both a divinely inspired revolutionary and a reformer with secular concerns and family problems of his own for whom it would be impossible not to feel sympathy. Aslan also touches on the liberalizing effect of the spread of Islam, which allowed adherents of the three monotheistic religions to live peaceably in Spain for a time, introduced strict laws limiting legal retribution and encouraging forgiveness, redistributed wealth with an eye to enriching the impoverished, and spurred reforms in the way women were treated in inheritance laws. The book also discusses the Iranian revolution, and the vexed relations between Iran and the United States. Aslan seems to think that the aims of Iran's revolutionaries and those of American liberals were/are more alike than either group bothers to recognize now. This is a perspective that I would imagine is unlikely to make Aslan many friends in either country, both of which are now run by cynical men. How unfortunate. My only objection to the book, and it is a minor one, is that Aslan spends a lot of ink criticizing the Ulama (conservative academic interpreters of the Qu'ran) over the past several hundred years, but he does not specify exactly who these people are, saying only that the Ulama did this and the Ulama did that and everything they did was always all wrong. This could use a little more parsing; I find it hard to believe that the Ulama is quite as univocal as that, even if it is as stultifying and traditionalist as he suggests. Anyway, this is an excellent book, readable, relevant, profound, subtly ideological but also very persuasive. Prepare to leave this book with a very different perception of what it means to be Muslim than you will ever get from Christiane Amanpour.

  4. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Riding the Tiger Various studies of religion over recent decades show a remarkably similar pattern of development that seems to be universal. The start of religious movement is most often sociological and economic. The deficiencies of the prevailing conditions are typically expressed in syncretistic religious terms borrowed from whatever spiritual traditions are available. These social/spiritual insights are progressively codified and formalised as doctrine with only an increasingly vague connect Riding the Tiger Various studies of religion over recent decades show a remarkably similar pattern of development that seems to be universal. The start of religious movement is most often sociological and economic. The deficiencies of the prevailing conditions are typically expressed in syncretistic religious terms borrowed from whatever spiritual traditions are available. These social/spiritual insights are progressively codified and formalised as doctrine with only an increasingly vague connection to the original motivating social conditions. As a religious establishment forms to ‘protect’ emerging doctrine, this establishment takes responsibility for interpreting the meaning of religious practice in new circumstances. It is not unusual at this point that differences in interpretation cause schisms among adherents, leading to competing sects. Aslan’s story is of Islam, but its main points are exactly these and are equally applicable to Christianity. Muhammad, for example, used precisely the same strategy as St. Paul in creating a ‘super-tribe’ of equal members open to all by simple affirmation of a fundamental tenet. Just as with the medieval papacy in which every doctrinal decision was politically motivated, so in Islam the collection of Hadiths, interpretations of Muslim doctrine, were equally political and used to further political aims by leading Muslims. And just as in Christianity, the initial religious thrust in Islam toward social justice and mutual regard succumbed quickly and persistently to the interests of the religious establishment in maintaining its position of power. Islam is syncretistic, just as is Christianity, and both from similar sources. Islam assimilated its strict monotheism and the idea of prophecy from Judaism, much of its ritual from the pagan cults of Arabia, and its cosmology from ancient Zoroastrianism. But arguably, its most important acquisition was the Christian notion of faith, and the related compulsion to proselytisation. Neither of these was present anywhere among the tribal religions of the Arabian peninsula nor among the ancient religions of Mesopotamia and Persia. They were innovations strictly from Christian sources and, as with Christianity, formed the foundation for a doctrinal religion with global ambitions. “Religion, it must be understood, is not faith,” says Aslan. He goes on to point out an essential aspect of this fact: “With the exception of a few remarkable men and women, no Jew, Christian, Zoroastrian, or Muslim of this time would have considered his or her religion to be rooted in the personal confessional experiences of individuals. Quite the contrary. Your religion was your ethnicity, your culture, and your social identity.” Religion, in other words, was a fact of human existence, not a set of beliefs about what other people had perceived as divine revelation. And so it has remained ‘with the exception of a few remarkable men and women’ throughout history. Faith is the basis of a new kind of tribalism which is grounded not on genetics or shared cultural background but on the verbal affirmation of an inner conviction. But Aslan does not develop the implication of his own observation. Religions of faith are inherently expansive, and, therefore, combative, regardless of their doctrinal content. Both Islam and Christianity have the intention of world-wide conversion. They both have a need to justify themselves as bearers and guardians of truth and to overcome others who claim such truth. The paradox of a Christianity which claims its truth as universal divine love yet feels justified in committing any human horror to prove it, is only rivalled by the paradox of Islam which recognises the gift of human life as divine and is willing to kill in order to ensure others share that recognition. Such is the nature of faith and its doctrines, no matter what such doctrines are. Faith itself, not any particular belief, is the key to understanding these religions of faith. Doctrinal faith is also inherently prone to fragmentation. That is to say, it promotes conflict, often intense, where none had previously existed. Claims to orthodoxy, correct beliefs, are as diverse in Islam as they are in Christianity. So, consequently, are the mutual anathemas that are delivered most vehemently against those who are closest but not identical in matters of doctrine. Such fragmentation is not promoted or maintained by the rank and file believer who typically has no idea of the content or complexity of doctrinal pronouncements. Rather, it is the result of religious leaders’ political ambitions justified on the basis of alternative interpretations of foundational texts. Put rather more simply: doctrinal religion is necessarily ideological and essentially divisive. It might be argued that all religion is a political activity in the sense that one of its essential functions is to establish the distinction ‘them’ and ‘us’. But with the doctrinal religions of Christianity and Islam this ethnic distinction, which can be merely descriptive, is transformed into a political judgement that leads to alienation and hatred. Small-scale tribal tension becomes global competition. Possibilities for negotiation among conflicting parties are eliminated by opposing claims to absolute truth. In fact the politics of doctrinal truth tends toward the elimination of all other politics as is clear in such apparently different cultures as that of Afghanistan and Alabama, or of Tehran and Washington D.C. If Aslan’s analysis is broadly correct, and I think it is, there seems to be an almost instinctive turn to religion in order to justify radical social action. His narrative of Muhammad’s striving against the inequities of contemporary life in Mecca, for example, is parallel to that of St. Paul in his struggle against the inequities of the Roman Empire. In addition, in order to establish their divine credentials for questioning the existing order of things, both men attacked those religious practices closest to them - Paul his native Judaism, and Muhammad his native veneration of the Ka’ba. Similar narratives could easily be developed for Hinduism and Buddhism among other religious movements Having fulfilled its function in mobilising support for such social change, however, religion quickly develops its own self-serving agenda. The politics of religion then become conservative and, when required, oppressive in order to further its own claims to power. Doctrinal religions based on texts (and therefore interpretations) are most prone to such political cooptation. Whatever spiritual ‘luminosity’ might be present in such texts is inevitably overcome by political expediency. The social objectives riding the tiger of doctrinal religion always winds up inside. Postscript: For more on doctrinal religion and its alternatives, see: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    "Don't like the question? Don't accept the premise. Then change the conversation." This quote (from West Wing- yeahyeahyeah) kept coming to mind while I was reading this book. Reza Aslan has done this to absolutely brilliant effect. This book, which functions both as an introduction to the religion of Islam and a political statement on current affairs, frames Islam and its history in terms meant to make it sympathetic and understandable to an audience raised in Judeo-Christian based, secularized "Don't like the question? Don't accept the premise. Then change the conversation." This quote (from West Wing- yeahyeahyeah) kept coming to mind while I was reading this book. Reza Aslan has done this to absolutely brilliant effect. This book, which functions both as an introduction to the religion of Islam and a political statement on current affairs, frames Islam and its history in terms meant to make it sympathetic and understandable to an audience raised in Judeo-Christian based, secularized Western societies. As a Muslim scholar of religions who was born in Iran, but who left as a child due to the Islamic Revolution to be raised and educated in America, Aslan is perfectly placed to understand exactly what it is that needs to be talked about and how. Aslan begins his book with a discussion on the climate in which Islam came into being- he shows us 7th century pagan Arabia, with its nomadic tribes of all different faiths- including Christians and Jews and polytheists of all sorts. He shows us evolution of Mecca and the culture into which the Prophet Muhammad was born. We see how all of these things affected the formation of Muhammad's initial community of followers (who Aslan presents as egalitarian, socialist reformers with fair minded justice in mind), the development of Islam, the Recitation of those things contained within the Qu'ran. We are shown a religion without a leader after the Prophet dies, struggling to understand the way it should go, how his words should be understood, what to do with the power they have as the Islamic empire increases in size and power. The religion breaks off into various family groups, ideologies, and radical small sects. Various people use the religion for their own gain, as a distraction, to claim legitimacy. Powerful, traditionalist scholars of the Qu'ran who believe in a literal interpretation of the text take control for a very long time- the Ulama. Everything is twisted by this group, by political leaders, by imams etc, and all in the name of supposedly the same ideal, to get back to some mythical, perfect paradise. As Aslan points out again and again in his book: "Muhammad in Medina" became the paradigm for the Muslim empires that expanded throughout the Middle East after the Prophet's death, and the standard that every Arab kingdom struggled to meet during the Middle Ages...Regardless of whether one is labeled a Modernist or a Traditionalist, a reformist or a fundamentalist, a feminist or a male chauvanist, all Muslims regard Medina as the model of Islamic perfection. Put simply, Medina is what Islam was meant to be. And the argument goes on and on as to what this ideal of perfection means. Does this sound familiar? That's because it should. Aslan weaves another major plot thread throughout this book, which is the idea that we are presently living in the age of the Islamic Reformation, and all the violence that we see is an internal struggle, not a "clash of civilizations". He brings up the many similiarities he sees to the Christian Reformation throughout the book, arguing for understanding and hope for the future: "What is taking place now in the Muslim world is an internal conflict between Muslims, not an external battle between Islam and the West... All great religions grapple with these issues, some more fiercely than others. One need only recall Europe's massively destructive Thirty Years' War between the forces of the Protestant Union and those of the Catholic League to recognize the ferocity with which interreligious conflicts have been fought in Christian history. In many ways, the Thirty Years' War signaled the end of the Reformation: perhaps the classic argument over who gets to decide the future of a faith. What followed that awful war was a gradual progression in Christian theology from the doctrinal absolutism of the pre-Reformation era to the doctrinal relativism of the Enlightenment. This remarkable evolution in Christianity from its inception to its Reformation took fifteen vicious, bloody and occasionally apocalyptic centuries. Fourteen hundred years of rabid debate over what it means to be a Muslim; of passionate arguments over the interpretation of the Qu'ran and the application of Islamic law; of tribal feuds, crusades and world wars- and Islam has finally begun its fifteenth century." If this seems like a superficial parallel on some levels, that's true. There are a lot of differences in the form this "Reformation" has taken and how it has taken shape, but to get bogged down in that would certainly miss the point- that Islam and its followers are no different from any other major religion, no more backward or primitive, just at a different stage in their process than the rest of the world. This is especially remarkable given that some radical, fundamentalist sects have gained control of large sections of Islam due to historical circumstance, use of force and financial might (yeah this means Saudi Arabia), and due to colonialism, "Christianizing" missions, financial incentives and internal struggles, there is a large sympathetic audience to some parts of this theology and its ultimate consequences. Aslan showed me a glitteringly complicated, sophisticated faith, with its brilliant and dark places, like any powerful religion has. He showed me the evolution of the Sunnis, Shi'ites (Shi'ah) and the Sufis, the small radical sects that have had an effect on the future, and the long line of intellectuals and their historical circumstances (affected by them just like Muhammad was) and how faith was bent and twisted and shaped to suit current needs- showing Islam is by no means an inflexible faith. He ends in arguing that there is hope for an Islamic democracy, but an indigenous one, not one forced on it from the outside. A tolerant Islamic state is possible, it just hasn't succeeded yet, but it absolutely could. It is true, Aslan does construct his own "Muhammad in Medina" from the evidence available, just as everyone else does. But it fits beautifully with his argument that interpretation is up for debate and everyone should be allowed to bring their various ideas on the topic to the table. His ideal is beautiful and passionate and earnest. Moral and upright, liberal and full of optimism. Naive? Perhaps. But nevertheless, what he presents is a possibility, and one that I think everyone would do well to hope comes about. The only possible weaknesses I see here are: Some may find his arguments "apologist." He addresses this issue himself at the beginning of the book, basically saying that he's okay with that as there is no higher calling than to defend one's faith. I admire that he was so upfront about what he was doing, but I will say that it did make a few of his arguments a little hard to buy. It is easy to see him discarding evidence that doesn't fit his vision of Islam by the wayside, and a few times directly contradicting himself in the service of making it work. For example, I found the part of his book on women in Islam and how Muhammad was actually this super liberal guy who was just affected by the times he lived in somewhat spotty. Just saying that everything is the fault of the Muslim men who followed Muhammad and controlled everything, while a nice sop to the feminist part of me, isn't entirely convincing. I also found his end chapters on the way that a non secular, tolerant, but officially Islamic state could grow up, fairly unconvincing as well. I liked the ideas, but its clear that practical application is not his forte, which is fine, it just weakened his final argument that everything is going to be all right. He has a tendancy to go off into misty, dreamlike prose when he gets to an argument that is hard to defend. I understand that partially- it is hard to talk about faith in general, but it can get a little silly and distracting sometimes. However, if you just keep those few things in mind, I couldn't imagine a better introduction to the faith than this book. He opened up a whole new world of perspective for me and gave me the language to articulate a lot of what I hate about those dumb "clash of civilizations" people without resorting to lefty talking points. He left me curious, engaged, much more careful to judge, and absolutely wanting to know more. I don't know what better recommendation I can give than that.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia Nelson

    I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand: There are multiple cases of seemingly intentional skews. One particular example is Aslan's analysis of the practice of stoning adulterers: He says it was instituted by Umar, the second successor of Muhammad. Umar apparently lied about it being a part of original Revelation that was somehow "accidentally" left out of the authorized text. Aslan then refers to the hadith collections of Muhammad al-Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj as t I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand: There are multiple cases of seemingly intentional skews. One particular example is Aslan's analysis of the practice of stoning adulterers: He says it was instituted by Umar, the second successor of Muhammad. Umar apparently lied about it being a part of original Revelation that was somehow "accidentally" left out of the authorized text. Aslan then refers to the hadith collections of Muhammad al-Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj as the most "respected" and "reliable" canons. Well, sorry, but Bukhari and Muslim both contain multiple incidences of the Prophet commanding and overseeing the stoning of adulterers, meaning it was NOT introduced by Umar and has its basis in hadith/sunna, Quran notwithstanding (this punishment is prescribed by the Tawrat/Torah/Old Testament, which is why Muhammad did it). There is absolutely no way that a Muslim and scholar on Islam like Aslan is not aware of this, making it feel like more of deception than a mistake. In my opinion, this is just one of many instances where Aslan scapegoats Umar and other prominent figures in Islam's history to exonerate Muhammad himself (and by proxy Islam) of violence and/or misogyny and other morally reprehensible practices. On the other hand: Most sources of information on Islam originating in the West (that I have seen, at least) are slanted in the other direction: emphasizing incidents of violence and misogyny in the Quran, sunna, hadith, and history of Islam. This intentionally produces a decidedly ignorant, oversimplified/out-of-context and ethnocentric perception of the religion. Anyone with any proximity to Islam knows that here in America, viciously discriminatory attitudes against Muslims are horrifyingly common. These ideas are not benign: hate-crimes against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim are well-documented and it would be ignorant to not deem Islamophobia a potential contributor when considering the litany of atrocities and human rights abuses committed by the American government and Armed Forces in the so-called War on Terror and prior. This considered, is it really so wrong or inexcusable for a Muslim to intentionally present only the most cuddly, friendly face of his faith? In short, despite my personal discomfort with its biases, if a person said to me "I'd like to learn something/more about Islam", this is the book I'd hand them because if I'm going to influence someone's perception of 1/5 of the world's population, I'd rather bias them towards positivity than hatred and fear. Hence the 4 stars.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Oh man. What a conflicting review to have to write. On one hand, we have a wealth of easy-to-read historical and cultural information about Islam in a great, readable format for Western audiences. On the other, we have an author so blinded by personal bias that I routinely had to put the book down and walk away. The author, Reza Aslan, clearly knows his history as a scholar of Islamic culture and a personal believer, himself. It makes sense that the book is at its best when Aslan focuses objectiv Oh man. What a conflicting review to have to write. On one hand, we have a wealth of easy-to-read historical and cultural information about Islam in a great, readable format for Western audiences. On the other, we have an author so blinded by personal bias that I routinely had to put the book down and walk away. The author, Reza Aslan, clearly knows his history as a scholar of Islamic culture and a personal believer, himself. It makes sense that the book is at its best when Aslan focuses objectively on the history and culture of Islam and presents the facts. He's a great writer who really does a nice job of making history sound like fiction (a rare trait), and these passages are a joy to read. If the entire book were presented in this manner, this would be an easy five stars. Unfortunately, his aforementioned bias compromises the entire integrity of his work. At times, Aslan is drawn into argument regarding common criticism of Islam and its system of beliefs; it almost seems as though he feels compelled to personally defend its honor. Whether he's defending jihad as "just slander the Christians started during the Crusades," or explaining how Muhammad's slaying of 400-700 Jews in early Medina "can't really be classified as genocide since he only killed one percent of the Jewish population," you get the distinct impression he's defensively and emotionally reacting to scholastic criticism. This happens often with regard to the prophet himself, Muhammad. In the first hundred pages alone, Aslan defends the following: - Muhammad's marriage to a six year old girl ("But everyone back then was doing this! And he waited to consummate until she was nine!") - Muhammad's polygamy in general to nine wives in ten years ("He had to hold the kingdom together with political alliances!" Hard to see how marrying a slave girl helps in that regard.) - The Ummah's penchant for caravan raiding ("It's not stealing, it's redistributing wealth!") - Perhaps most egregiously, he defends dhimma not as an example of Islam's subjugation of other religions, but actually of its religious tolerance? A quick internet search provides plenty of Muslim sources who believe quite the opposite. Historical context is often important, especially when looking at religious history. Islam is certainly not the only faith to commit these kinds of acts, but sugarcoating it with baseless excuses just comes off as pandering to critics. This wouldn't be so bad if Aslan spent any time citing other sources who could verify his claims, but there's usually no substantiation whatsoever with regard to these claims; often, I'd be disappointed when Googling just about any of the claims when I suspected he was being overly subjective. It's a shame "No god but God" suffers from these issues, because when Aslan sticks to the facts, he's an immensely talented storyteller that really could have created something special. I don't have a dog in his fight when it comes to what I think of Islam, but unfortunately, the defensive attitude in which he confronts fair criticism leads me to believe I need to do further reading before I make any sort of judgment. And isn't the point of a book like this to settle some of those feelings, not create more?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Zayn Gregory

    Tight composition, fast pacing, authoritative tone: it's no surprise it was a bestseller. Of politics and history it is a good introduction for the non-muslim. But if the intent was to present a vision of how muslims should understand their faith under the challenge of modernity, it falls way short. Even presuming the raft of hostile orientalists he draws from represented the most neutral and authoritative of western scholarship on Islam, the author's own tone and framing make it needlessly more Tight composition, fast pacing, authoritative tone: it's no surprise it was a bestseller. Of politics and history it is a good introduction for the non-muslim. But if the intent was to present a vision of how muslims should understand their faith under the challenge of modernity, it falls way short. Even presuming the raft of hostile orientalists he draws from represented the most neutral and authoritative of western scholarship on Islam, the author's own tone and framing make it needlessly more odious. We are informed the Prophet was "indecisive", an "empty vessel", a "hooked nose" Arab, that the Quran *was dictated by* its environment, that the 5 daily prayers are apocryphal, and for that matter the entire hadith corpus should be thrown out the window, etc. I'm not reverse FoxNewsing him and saying he must be a staunch muslim to write a book on Islam. I'm just saying this book is speaking to and from a position so far removed from the Islamic scholarly tradition that I can make no use of it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    "Religion, it must be understood, is not faith. Religion is the story of faith." That is the reader's key to this fascinating account of the origins and development of Islam. Faith is a way of moving and being in the world; religion is a body of traditions and practices and institutions that preserve the story of how to move and be in the world that way. In order to speak to new generations, traditions adapt, but faith is eternal. From this perspective, Reza Aslan retells the story of Islam. Wri "Religion, it must be understood, is not faith. Religion is the story of faith." That is the reader's key to this fascinating account of the origins and development of Islam. Faith is a way of moving and being in the world; religion is a body of traditions and practices and institutions that preserve the story of how to move and be in the world that way. In order to speak to new generations, traditions adapt, but faith is eternal. From this perspective, Reza Aslan retells the story of Islam. Written in clear prose and filled with memorable stories both personal and traditional, I found my mind and heart easily staying engaged with this book. "This book," writes Aslan, "is, above all else, an argument for reform. There are those who will call it apostasy, but that is not troubling. No one speaks for God - not even the prophets (who speak about God). There are those who will call it apology, but that is hardly a bad thing. An apology is a defense, and there is no higher calling than to defend one's faith, especially from ignorance and hate..." In these words, I perceive at once an acceptance and a desire for dialogue, and a fatalistic attitude. Just as Islam's beginnings took place 600 years after the beginnings of Christianity, Aslan argues, so the Islamic Reformation is taking place now, 600 years after the Protestant one. Just as pre-Reformation Christianity was divided into Orthodox and Roman confessions, so today's Islam is divided into Sunni and Shi'ah. Whirling around early Christianity were ascetics and mystics, as Sufism does around Islam. And as did Christianity during the Reformation, Islam today is finding its way into a more literate citizenry's hands. "[T]he Christian Reformation was an argument over the future of the faith - a violent, bloody argument that engulfed Europe in devastation and war for more than a century. Thus far, the Islamic Reformation has proved no different. ... It took many years of violence and devastation to cleanse the Hijaz of its 'false idols.' It will take many more to cleanse Islam of its new false idols - bigotry and fanaticism - worshipped by those who have replaced Muhammad's original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord. But the cleansing is inevitable, and the tide of reform cannot be stopped. The Islamic Reformation is already here. We are all living it." The question is, how shall we live it? Are there enough people in today's world who understand the futility of violence and will not charge or be led into it? Are there enough of us who understand that power is only valuable as a means and bankrupt as an end? Can the foundational principles of true faith - tolerance and dialogue - guide us in the ways of peace and toward the spirit of mutual love? Can we peaceably contain the bigots and fanatics? Collaboration, not coercion, is the ideal in every healthy heart. Shall we choose many more years of violence and devastation to achieve any goal, or shall we choose tolerance, dialogue and justice made in the spirit of mutual love? During the Christian Reformation, Socinians in Poland and Unitarians in (now) Romania chose the latter. There weren't enough of them to turn the tide of violence in their day. I have to believe that there are enough people today who would choose and rely upon love rather than power, tolerance rather than force. All it takes is simple human choice.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    I want to write two reviews for this book. In one I say well done, and thank you Reza Aslan, for your clear prose, your sympathetic defense of Islam, the remarkable way you cram so much--religious history, political history, theology, religious practice--into so few pages. In the other I say for the sake of all that's holy Reza, will you stop banging on about how Islam is a liberal-democrat's wet dream religion? Because that doesn't sit very well with your endless claims that the Ulama comprises I want to write two reviews for this book. In one I say well done, and thank you Reza Aslan, for your clear prose, your sympathetic defense of Islam, the remarkable way you cram so much--religious history, political history, theology, religious practice--into so few pages. In the other I say for the sake of all that's holy Reza, will you stop banging on about how Islam is a liberal-democrat's wet dream religion? Because that doesn't sit very well with your endless claims that the Ulama comprises only the spawn of anti-liberal-democratic-demons. And while we're at it, I'm pretty sure clerics have reasons other than sexism for the decisions they make. Tied in to this, will you stop making obviously bad arguments (e.g., "People say that Islam is a 'religion of the sword.' But Buddhists and Christians fight all the time!" Sure they do. But Jesus and Buddha never commanded armies.)? Will you get off Sufism's jockstrap? I know that's the easiest to paint as the aforementioned L-DWD religion (drink! screw! rock'n'roll! the Gaia thesis! I mean, there must be more to it than that), but it's just possible that that's a sign of weakness rather than strength. Instead, I will just say: this is a great, short introduction to the history of Islam. It touches on a few theological/jurisprudential points without knuckling down on them. His idea that Islamic terrorism is caused by a surging conservatism clashing with an equally surging liberalization is a plausible one. But the book's polemic (justified by hysterical Islamophobia, I grant you) distorts its history and argument far too much: if Islam offered only support for liberal-capitalistic governments in the middle east, it wouldn't be as popular as it is.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    It’s no secret that I have an intellectual crush on Reza Aslan. I adored Zealot and was charmed by Aslan’s ability to present a complicated history and an important mythology with clarity and precision. In No God But God, Aslan uses the same skilled hand to offer a history not only of the religion of Islam, but how Islam came to be practiced as it is today in all its variety all over the world. You will learn a lot from No God But God, especially about Islamic cultural practices and their Quaran It’s no secret that I have an intellectual crush on Reza Aslan. I adored Zealot and was charmed by Aslan’s ability to present a complicated history and an important mythology with clarity and precision. In No God But God, Aslan uses the same skilled hand to offer a history not only of the religion of Islam, but how Islam came to be practiced as it is today in all its variety all over the world. You will learn a lot from No God But God, especially about Islamic cultural practices and their Quaranic (or lack of Quaranic) roots. Aslan is clear-eyed about the challenges facing contemporary Islam and offers helpful evidence for dismantling arguments against the faith (useful if, you know, you’re friends with Bill Maher — or just spend a lot of time on the internet). But the real joy is Aslan’s prose. As an academic, I know how distressingly rare it is to find an writer with strong scholarly chops and an accessible writing voice. It’s the way Aslan teaches on the page that I find so endearing. I’ll read anything he cares to write. — Brenna Clarke Gray from The Best Books We Read In July: http://bookriot.com/2015/08/03/riot-r...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nabilah M.

    This book can be a good starting point to those who want to discover more about Islam. Despite that, it cannot be the primary source of reference when it comes to Prophet Muhammad’s biography for few of the account of events are arbitrary and moot point to what I as a Muslim has been born and raised taught with. Too many instances dispute my current knowledge of the prophet’s life. In fact, Reza’s Shiite background strongly influences his writing. Of course you may argue that every author has th This book can be a good starting point to those who want to discover more about Islam. Despite that, it cannot be the primary source of reference when it comes to Prophet Muhammad’s biography for few of the account of events are arbitrary and moot point to what I as a Muslim has been born and raised taught with. Too many instances dispute my current knowledge of the prophet’s life. In fact, Reza’s Shiite background strongly influences his writing. Of course you may argue that every author has their own belief and whatnot. Consequently, I was repugnant to read the first few chapters of the book in which the focal point is the introduction to seerah (History of Islam)that is biased. I would much rather recommend the Sealed nectar for more in depth and concise recollection of Prophet Muhammad and his companion’s lives since most of the facts told are supported with Quran verses and hadiths. Prophetic stories not supported by verses from Quran and hadiths to me are equivalent to fairy tales that are told by mouth. Nevertheless, the main strength of this book is his urge for ummah’s unity. Time and again, the Muslim world is divided into fractions – traditionalists vs rationalists, Shiite vs sunnis, etc. It’s time for the ummah to stand united for salvation. Additionally, Reza’s clever, I’d rather say rhetorical questions along the book will pique your interest. What with the radical Islam, is in actuality the consequence of everybody’s ignorance, of the perpetual alleged Western Hegemony and the continuation of the old Crusade. Towards the end he asks us where are we leading to? What should be the panacea to the Muslim’s World? Pluralism. Islamic democracy. Egalitarian society. Those are the keys that he suggests. Debateable but interesting arguments.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    An easily read, clear account of the origins of Islam and its subsequent evolution into a religion with millions of followers. 75% of the book is about Muhammad and the two centuries or more of unrest after his death. We’re given an in-depth description of the different factions that Islam has inspired from Sunni and Shi-ite Muslims to Sufism. I found all this really interesting but it was then unbalanced by what felt like a quick rush through the last 150 years or so. Amongst events and develop An easily read, clear account of the origins of Islam and its subsequent evolution into a religion with millions of followers. 75% of the book is about Muhammad and the two centuries or more of unrest after his death. We’re given an in-depth description of the different factions that Islam has inspired from Sunni and Shi-ite Muslims to Sufism. I found all this really interesting but it was then unbalanced by what felt like a quick rush through the last 150 years or so. Amongst events and developments briefly covered were the Indian Revolution of 1857, the rise of Nasser, the Muslim Brothers, the rise of Wahhabism and the creation of the first Islamic state, Pakistan. All very interesting but too rushed in relation to the rest of the book. And what happened to the intervening 1100 or so years? Surely the Crusades deserved a mention? I have a much better understanding of Islam now, thanks to this book, but I feel it would have worked better as two books. One dealing with the early history, another with developments since (or up until 2005 when it was published). I’d recommend it though if, like me, you’re keen to understand the complexities and origins of Islam.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. day in America, the first I ever truly celebrated in full appreciation because only a few months ago I discovered that I had this eminent man’s legacy all backwards. When I thought Martin Luther King Jr., I would think of the Civil Rights Movement, the March on Washington, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the seminal “I Have a Dream.” My understanding of him was limited to a single optic, that of racial justice. But lately I’ve learned that King fought for more th Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. day in America, the first I ever truly celebrated in full appreciation because only a few months ago I discovered that I had this eminent man’s legacy all backwards. When I thought Martin Luther King Jr., I would think of the Civil Rights Movement, the March on Washington, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the seminal “I Have a Dream.” My understanding of him was limited to a single optic, that of racial justice. But lately I’ve learned that King fought for more than African American rights. He was also an ardent defender of the poor, a great activist in the face of corporate America, indeed a man who aligned himself with all of the weak against all of the powerful. His “arc of the moral universe” would bend towards not only racial justice but justice of all kinds. By highlighting King’s other accomplishments, I do not wish to diminish his work in the field of racial equality. I simply want to show that in the few decades following his assassination, certain groups have effectively erased a part of his legacy, limiting him to the role of civil rights activist, no matter how great this role may be. And so it’s the same with Muhammad, the 7th century prophet and founder of Islam. When I hear Islam, despite my best intentions, I think out-of-date, sexist, violent. In No god but God, a wonderfully readable explainer of Islam for the uninitiated, I learned that Muhammad and his original values have suffered a similar smear campaign to King’s. Today Muhammad is associated with an unruly faith that in the centuries since his death has moved farther and farther away from his founding manifesto. What Muhammad preached about in Mecca and Medina was not headscarves or jihad, but alms to the poor, a dismantling of the Arabian tribal plutocracy, an acceptance of and reverence for neighboring religions, and care for the hungry, the orphaned, the widowed, and the sick. Yes, the Prophet Muhammad was an activist for economic justice. Who gets to speak for the dead? The living, of course. Which means that the dead’s legacies are at best incomplete or at worst entirely corrupted. In the case of Martin Luther King Jr., his legacy has been rewritten in only a few short decades. What exists in the common discourse on King today is a selection of his least radical words, meaning that we can wrongly and prematurely declare his movement as “victorious” and “finished” and ignore the ongoing plights of all the people he valiantly fought for. For Muhammad, the process has occurred for many more centuries, to the extent that some strains of modern Islam are in utter disagreement with what he preached. This enlightenment on Muhammad’s founding credo alone makes No god but God worth reading. Except then it continues—magnificently—tracing the development of various Islamic sects, the impact of colonialism on Muslims, and the current battle for the future of the faith. Islamic terrorism, so often viewed through an Us vs. Them lens here in the West, is better understood as a Them vs. Them fight to define the direction of the religion. When Aslan breaks down the various sects, you can’t help but be thankful for someone finally—finally!—getting into the real nitty-gritty of the historical differences between a Shia and a Sunni Muslim. And you can’t help but realize that all those beautiful love poems by that guy named Rumi (“The minute I heard my first love story/I started looking for you, not knowing/how blind that was./Lovers don't finally meet somewhere./They're in each other all along.”) that you added to your favorite quotes and admired for putting words to your deepest love affairs are not dedicated to a real person, but God Himself, Rumi being a master of the mystical Sufi sect of Islam. In short, I learned a ton, a ton that I should have learned a long time ago had the voices of practical, levelheaded Muslims been more readily available over the shouting of fear-mongering Evangelicals and psychotic jihadi extremists. Like MLK and Muhammad and so many others, people have their voices stolen from them not only in death but in life. Here’s to trying to hear them.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 thoughts soon.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ruchama Feuerman

    To me, this was worth reading, because Reza Aslan made the story if Islam come alive and told me so much I didn't know about Islam. I felt clouds parting in my brain and was able to comprehend some of the glories of the religion, and the hatred and factionalism, too. Sunni and Shiites had always been merely exotic names but for the first time I could understand why these groups might despise each other all these centuries later. It was fascinating to see the overlap between Islam and Judaism. No To me, this was worth reading, because Reza Aslan made the story if Islam come alive and told me so much I didn't know about Islam. I felt clouds parting in my brain and was able to comprehend some of the glories of the religion, and the hatred and factionalism, too. Sunni and Shiites had always been merely exotic names but for the first time I could understand why these groups might despise each other all these centuries later. It was fascinating to see the overlap between Islam and Judaism. Not that I totally trusted Aslan's account. It did seem that Aslan's own let's say, predispositions were coming through. He took pot shots at Christianity and Judaism, and his comments about those religions contained several inaccuracies, such as Aaron having brought the Jews to the Promised Land. He probes and asks many questions throughout, but he never seems to wonder why Mohammad never appointed a successor, and how the contenders and their descendants have been battling ever since (three of the four successors to Mohammad were poisoned or murdered), or why he didn't write down his revelations of the Quran at the time, which led to it being canonized and codified decades later by Uthman, a leader Aslan himself deems corrupt. One wonders what was in those variant editions of the Quran that were burnt. It strikes me that all the various factions of Islam that developed (which Aslan over optimistically describes as conveying a wonderful cultural and spiritual diversity, conveniently ignoring the bloodshed), were all striving to arrive at what Mohammad really meant, the real Islam. That's why it's so chilling to read about leaders -- the Companions? -- who casually overturned some of Mohammad's famously moderate teachings after he died, by claiming they'd heard Mohammad say otherwise. It strikes me that since there are so many variant translations and editions that could be manipulated to mean anything, every group will continue to strive for what Mohammad intended by projecting their own beliefs on him. Which is what Aslan seems to do, as well. I also thought it shameful the glancing way he wrote about Sept. 11. So why the four stars? Because it immersed me in a religion I don't know in a compelling way, and gave me enough of a platform of information to perhaps start seeking other answers, and for that I'll overlook a lot.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Khairul Hezry

    Overall a very good book on Islam. Its history, briefly chronicled, makes a good primer for readers who have no idea of the origins of this faith. If there is anything I didn't like, it would have been Reza's retelling of the history of the first three Caliphs of Islam especially the third Caliph, Uthman bin Affan. In this book, Uthman comes off looking like an inept leader who practised nepotism and corruption. Did Reza take notes from historical sources that were anti-Uthman? There have been m Overall a very good book on Islam. Its history, briefly chronicled, makes a good primer for readers who have no idea of the origins of this faith. If there is anything I didn't like, it would have been Reza's retelling of the history of the first three Caliphs of Islam especially the third Caliph, Uthman bin Affan. In this book, Uthman comes off looking like an inept leader who practised nepotism and corruption. Did Reza take notes from historical sources that were anti-Uthman? There have been many over the centuries. Reza Aslan is after all an Iranian and therefore most probably a Shi'ah. The Shia'ah tend not to like any of the Caliphs except Ali bin Abu Thalib and all those who came from the line of the Prophet (the Abbasid Caliphs and the Fatimids to name two) While Uthman may seem weak in the vicious eyes of contemporary politics (for example, telling his companions to stop protectng him and leave his home while he was besieged by his enemies and refusing to fight his murderers because he would not shed Muslim blood), he was actually acting out the prophecy that the Prophet foretold; that the Muslims would fracture after his death and would fight each other. Reza charged that Uthman practised nepotism but significantly, Uthman did not appoint his own stepson to any position. Those relations whom he did gave positions were qualified for it. They had flaws in their character perhaps but their knowledge of Islam was vast (some of them were companions of the Prophet) and any wrong they may have committed were their own and did not affect the Muslim society of the time. It was under these so-called 'corrupt' governors that territories were added to the Muslim empire, expanding the borders rather than reducing them. The murder of Uthman was allegedly due to the resentment of his ineptness and corruption but other sympathetic historians claim that the allegations against Uthman was cooked up by Abdullah bin Saba who pretended to embrace Islam but chose instead to create dissension from within. Allah knows best the truth. Other than that, this is a cracking good book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Aslan begins his apologetic story talking of modern Islam as in a period of reformation, comparing it to the Reformation of the 16th century. This would be compelling if 1) he ever returns to this argument in any sustained fashion later in the book and 2) if he understood the Reformation as anything more than a violent religious response to modernity that threw off authority. The Reformation in Europe was tied to the rise of the power of the nation-state and the end of religion as a political po Aslan begins his apologetic story talking of modern Islam as in a period of reformation, comparing it to the Reformation of the 16th century. This would be compelling if 1) he ever returns to this argument in any sustained fashion later in the book and 2) if he understood the Reformation as anything more than a violent religious response to modernity that threw off authority. The Reformation in Europe was tied to the rise of the power of the nation-state and the end of religion as a political power. I am not certain how useful the comparison is for Aslan today, especially with his desire for an Islamically informed, indigenous democracy. Aslan has a view of the Islamic past that he wants to be useful today and overall he tells his apologetic tale well, focusing heavily on the life of Muhammad and the first rightly guided Caliphs, skipping over much of the longer history of Islam. The book reads quite easily, almost novelistically at times, but it is certainly partisan and he slants the truth again and again (towards the Shi'a against the Sunni, against the traditional authority of the Ummah, against European colonialists as the cause of all of the Islamic worlds modern troubles). Having read enough bad Christian apologetic, his tactics of historical relativizing are common enough (see his discussion of the death of the Jews of Medina) and are fair enough for the genre. For such a good writer though his long paragraph on the history of the Christian Trinity is either exceptionally lazy or a deliberate smear. And when he blames the idea of "holy war" on Christian Crusaders he is just plain lying according to all the histories of the phrase I have read. So, yes, read this well-written advocate for Islam, but do not quote his history or his conclusions without checking them against other sources, hopefully more reliable.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ola Hreiche

    Having divorced myself from Islam a couple of years back but continued to struggle with a lot of resentment regarding current "theological" and cultural affairs, coming across this book parted some clouds in my mind. I am far more interested in the historical aspect of any religion than I'll ever be in its theology, and Reza Aslan proves to be thought-provoking at best. Whether man made or heavenly sent, timeless or bound to a specific era, there's a thing or two about Islam that one can learn t Having divorced myself from Islam a couple of years back but continued to struggle with a lot of resentment regarding current "theological" and cultural affairs, coming across this book parted some clouds in my mind. I am far more interested in the historical aspect of any religion than I'll ever be in its theology, and Reza Aslan proves to be thought-provoking at best. Whether man made or heavenly sent, timeless or bound to a specific era, there's a thing or two about Islam that one can learn to appreciate. I think religions are not testimonies of the greatness of a God, or gods, or whatever. I think they just prove how interesting and creative, and sometimes awful, human beings can be. They are a testimony of us and our values.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Silvana

    A very good, eye-opening, mind-blowing read on the foundation and development of Islam as a religion, movement, identify, community, or in short, the Ummah, from Medina to the modern age. It is quite easy to read, with lots and lots of details. Everyone should read it, even those who identify with it. I seriously could not count how many passages I highlighted (edit: oh wait, I actually could do that in Goodreads. There are 76 in total). However, I have to deduct one star because it ends with a t A very good, eye-opening, mind-blowing read on the foundation and development of Islam as a religion, movement, identify, community, or in short, the Ummah, from Medina to the modern age. It is quite easy to read, with lots and lots of details. Everyone should read it, even those who identify with it. I seriously could not count how many passages I highlighted (edit: oh wait, I actually could do that in Goodreads. There are 76 in total). However, I have to deduct one star because it ends with a too cheerful note and fail to take Indonesia into account. I do not share the optimism, sorry. We are not enjoying the kind of reform Aslan so fervently describing since we are sliding backward. Only a few weeks ago, we were so close of having a manic mass murderer as a president due to the failing reform. The author focuses on the Middle East and to some extent India, but it forgets about Indonesia, the largest Muslim population in the world, who is now tearing itself apart with lies, rant, violence, and worst of all, dissociation and apathy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    this review first appeared on [http://intraspace.blogspot.com] this was a book that mike recommended to me, and it just so happened that our local library had a copy. i think most of us in the 'west', and certainly a good number of us christians, like to think we know a bit about islam. we hear about it in the news almost everyday, and we hear the rhetoric that comes from all sides. unfortunately, it is usually only sensationalist material that makes it to the news, and i have to admit that the sa this review first appeared on [http://intraspace.blogspot.com] this was a book that mike recommended to me, and it just so happened that our local library had a copy. i think most of us in the 'west', and certainly a good number of us christians, like to think we know a bit about islam. we hear about it in the news almost everyday, and we hear the rhetoric that comes from all sides. unfortunately, it is usually only sensationalist material that makes it to the news, and i have to admit that the same is probably true as far as what we hear in christian circles too. 'no god but God' is written by a muslim (albeit a reasonably 'liberal' one) of iranian descent. reza aslan is young academic living and researching in the usa. he has set out to write a book that explains islam, from his perspective, to the western world. and i think he has been very successful. the book is very well written and accessible, and aslan manages to look at the issues fairly, without surrendering his own personal beliefs - although some of his comments about christianity, i felt, were a little ill-informed. all up, i found myself wishing that there were more books like this written by christians. aslan relates the history of islam from the days just before mohammad, through the life of the prophet, and then into the subsequent development of the religion, with it's three main branches: sunni, shi'ite and sufi. he didn't mention much about the crusades, which i found a bit strange, but he picks the story up again strongly around the colonial area and in the modern age. the overall premise of aslan's argument, is that islamic beliefs (as practiced by mohammad) were tolerant and inclusive. he says that, for example, mohammad welcomed christians and jews and was content for them to retain their own faiths. mohammad had a collective term "ahl al-Kitab", meaning "people of the book", to describe muslims, christians and jews. and under mohammad's regime, these people were considered "dhimmi", that is, protected by islamic law. mohammad considered the torah, the christian scriptures and his own revelations to be one complete work. aslan also argues that in mohammad's society, women were esteemed and protected - not subjugated as they are in a number of muslim cultures today. aslan says that islam is currently in the throes of a reformation, much like the one that christianity went through a few hundred years ago. his point, if i understand correctly, is "if you think there's strife between western ideals and islam, you should see the strife going on inside islam". he believes that out of this strife (between the branches of islam, and more generally, between fundamentalist and moderate ideologies) will come a reformed islam. he says that if this reformed islam truly returns to its tolerant and inclusive roots, then such a thing as islamic democracy (a political and legal system democratically based on islamic morals) can exist and islamic people can be liberated from violence and tyranny. interestingly he sees islamic violence against the west as being an overflow of the internal violence. he does not see that the future of islam, and an islamic political system, lies in the hands of extremist groups such as the taliban, but in the hands of a moderate (and more genuine) brand of islam. highly recommended.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sithara

    In this interesting book, Aslan starts each section by presenting 'the idealized' view of a topic, as narrated by early Muslim scholars (what he terms as 'myth') and then presents what he believes 'really happened' (objective history). Myth typically includes miracles, and heroic portrayals of people involved. Those inclined to believe in miracles may have difficulty with this approach, as he says that it doesn't matter whether miracles happened, but what role such myths play in shaping the beli In this interesting book, Aslan starts each section by presenting 'the idealized' view of a topic, as narrated by early Muslim scholars (what he terms as 'myth') and then presents what he believes 'really happened' (objective history). Myth typically includes miracles, and heroic portrayals of people involved. Those inclined to believe in miracles may have difficulty with this approach, as he says that it doesn't matter whether miracles happened, but what role such myths play in shaping the beliefs of a particular religious community. I disagree with Aslan - it matters a great deal whether the beliefs of a religious community are shaped by actual historical events (including amazing ones) or whether such beliefs are based on falsehood. I greatly appreciated Aslan's candor about the religious personalities involved. Sunni Islamic scholarship presents early Islamic historical figures almost absolutely perfect human beings. I was always struck at the incongruity of such idealized descriptions and the fact that within a few decades after the death of the Prophet (s), the early Islamic community entered a massive civil war from which one could argue Islam never recovered. How could such a supposedly perfect community get into such a serious mess so quickly? Reading Aslan's descriptions of the personalities involved was very helpful in this regard: they weren't perfect people, but were deeply religious, well meaning people who had their share of faults, misunderstandings, and disagreements which built up over the years, and in the chaotic transition after the Prophet's death, exploded into civil war. Aslan is unable to hide his obvious, and rather unobjective, disdain of the Ulama. He paints them entirely in a negative light, as a power hungry, control-mad group which has stifled all flexibility from the religion. While this view undoubtedly has a good deal truth to it (I am extremely sympathetic), it must also be admitted that the Scholars did a great deal of work to preserve the religion, and its history, without which we may not even have the religion today, and certainly would know far less about the events surrounding its birth and rise. On the other hand, Aslan is positive about Sufism, defending all its variations, despite admitting that at least some Sufi beliefs don't square well with the basic Islamic creed, "No God but God." Aslan correctly states that Sufism is not generalizable. But he tries to generalize anyway, which leads to occasional contradictions: for example Aslan states that all Sufis follow Islamic acts of worship such as 5 daily prayers, but then also says that some Sufis believe acts of religious worship are only important for the masses, and others believe it is a shell that can be cast off once deeper layers of spirituality are realized. Aslan's finishes by presenting his vision of Islam's future. He believes in Islamic pluralism, and believes that it can best be represented by a democracy. Furthermore, he believes that when God's law and the popular will contradict, the popular will should win out. The limits of Islamic pluralism is hotly debated today in the Muslim world, but for me, the claim, "No God but God" is the key to Islam, along with the belief in Muhammad (s) Prophethood. These two aspects should be the backbone of anyone calling themselves a Muslim. The issue of popular sovereignty over divine law (properly understood and contextualized) is complex. I agree with Aslan, one cannot force on a community any law, including a law from God, over a people who want it implemented in their community. But Aslan leaves it there, but I would argue that every effort should be made to make the community see the wisdom of divine laws, emphasizing positive consequences in implementing them (improved justice, social harmony, etc) and pointing out negatives of not following them (chaotic society, broken down families, etc), both in this world and in the afterlife.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nabilah Firdaus

    5/5 stars for No God But God by Reza Aslan. No God But God begins with the journey of the author to Marrakech where he encountered an altercation between a Muslim and a Christian, who was a missionary. Apparently, the Muslim kept on hovering the Christian just because he is a Christian. From here, he talked about the clash of monotheism concept - which apparently is the major conflict between religions in our world today. This book is written in chronological style which makes it easy to comprehen 5/5 stars for No God But God by Reza Aslan. No God But God begins with the journey of the author to Marrakech where he encountered an altercation between a Muslim and a Christian, who was a missionary. Apparently, the Muslim kept on hovering the Christian just because he is a Christian. From here, he talked about the clash of monotheism concept - which apparently is the major conflict between religions in our world today. This book is written in chronological style which makes it easy to comprehend and follow - It started from Jahiliyyah period, the birth of Muhammad, the Quran revelations, the Khulafa Rasyidin period, the various sects in Islam and current controversies within the Ummah. This book is richly informative and wondefully told. It provides an informative look at the origins, evolution and future of Islam. I loved how the author analyzes the history and tenets of Islam without getting preachy and apologetic. I learned a lot from this book, and it inspired me to seek out and read more on Islam, as there is so much I embarrassingly don't know. I think I need to read it like 50 more times because it is SO SO SO good. Highly recommended for everyone - yes, non-Muslims included.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    This book was thoroughly eye-opening. It is a must read!

  25. 5 out of 5

    رؤیا

    I absolutely loved the book. Dr. Aslan did a great job using a very comprehensive unbiased language going through the history of one of the most talked and controversial religion of all time, Islam. The book was going through the Arabic peninsula’s geographical location, cultural norms, and traditions that made up the birth place of the last messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad. Then it goes on to explain the reaction of people toward the new introduced religion and then how Islam perceived in tod I absolutely loved the book. Dr. Aslan did a great job using a very comprehensive unbiased language going through the history of one of the most talked and controversial religion of all time, Islam. The book was going through the Arabic peninsula’s geographical location, cultural norms, and traditions that made up the birth place of the last messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad. Then it goes on to explain the reaction of people toward the new introduced religion and then how Islam perceived in today’s world and how it expected to look in the future. The Prophet was described as a seemingly ordinary person with limited resources yet very sophisticated both personally and professionally being able to obtain his community’s trust and respect. There was no doubt that Prophet Muhammad was chosen by God from the very beginning, but his position in life both economically and socially was no better or in a higher position to make his life easier or more relaxed. So from the very beginning he had to face many life challenges and overcome them with his own intelligence and strength. I liked the fact that every intention of the Prophet from being married to the woman almost twice as his age first and later having multiple wives to being scared of when the first revelation sent to him and to his decision of migration to Medina was brought up and explained fully in the book with no hesitation. I also liked that all important subjects that form Islam’s core value were opened and fully discussed. Two of these subjects specially that has made Islam the front face and most attacked religion of all are Hijab and Jihad. The former viewed as a compulsory limitation for Muslim women and the latter as a global terror for those who believe Muslims’ goal is eventually to remove non-Muslims in the world!! Although it is hard to convince today’s world of Islam as a soft, kind and loving religion considering barbaric actions of those under the flag of faith, Aslan has done a great job explaining the true meaning of each of Islam’s elements and how it meant to be implemented and how it was altered throughout the century’s by selfish people in power. It was comforting to know that what Islam meant was for people to care and respect each other and make the world a more livable and peaceful place for each other yet it was very heart aching to realize how the great faith was altered by powerful evil individuals who wanted nothing but to hold power and control others for their own benefits. There is no doubt that the world today is becoming more and more Islamophobia just because of those on power who abuse people under the name of this great faith. I am not even sure the Islam today is the Islam that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad and the Islam that meant to be as the greatest religion of all. This book is a very good read though for those who know nothing about Islam and judge it only based on these altercation and terrorist action that has been done under the name of the God. It is even a good quick read for those who were born Muslims but are fed up with the remarks that they get for the religion that they feel they had no option to choose. As Aslan says in one of his speeches: one either has faith or not. Faith is one unexplained feeling that we have inside us and religion is only a language to explain this feeling. Whether one choose to have a religion or not, it is best to be studied and research rather than blindly followed. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in knowing Islam better and those who feel that Islam is a bias discriminatory religion. The book is a comforting surprise to those who like to know more:)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A.G.

    Finished the book and a bit overwhelmed by the various tribes, factions, sects, leaders, rebels, extremists, militants and how each country and even areas in the same country proclaiming to be Muslim are so different in their expression of Muslim/Islamist thought. Reza Aslan, however, does a good job of presenting the history of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions with the successor Caliphs and how the Revelations of the Quran over time were used for personal gain, ideological advantage and Finished the book and a bit overwhelmed by the various tribes, factions, sects, leaders, rebels, extremists, militants and how each country and even areas in the same country proclaiming to be Muslim are so different in their expression of Muslim/Islamist thought. Reza Aslan, however, does a good job of presenting the history of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions with the successor Caliphs and how the Revelations of the Quran over time were used for personal gain, ideological advantage and power. Really, not much different from other societies where power and wealth can lead to abuse and separatism. I appreciated his discussion about the term "holy war"which he points out was used by the Crusaders to legitimize with theology their desire for land and trade routes. Aslan states that today the Muslim world is in a conflict between Muslims and not in an external battle between Islam and the West - this book was written in 2005 and I wonder if this view has changed for the author since then. The Islamic Reformation - how to reconcile ancestral Islamic tradition and values with democratic ideals? Islamic fundamentalists oppose democracy even if that democracy is based on Islamic tradition and values (rather than on the values of their former colonial imperialists or Western values) because if people have a choice, they may choose against that fundamentalist government. Aslan sees Muslim immigrants as the mobilizing force of an Islamic Reformation that embraces Islamic values in a pluralistic democracy that includes religious tolerance, as Islam's foundation is pluralism per the Quran: "there can be no compulsion in religion." Aslan warns that the Islamic Reformation is at hand and will be a terrifying event. But I wonder if he means terrifying for Muslims or the entire world? I''m not sure what he means in that statement. Aslan also describes the involvement of the U.S., Britain, and Saudi Arabia in arming and supporting terrorist radical groups (Taliban) as a defense against Soviet communism in Afghanistan and once that mission was completed, the region was abandoned allowing violent radical groups to flourish. Where did that get us!!! There is so much in this rather short book to think about and sift through for understanding. I would like to read further in a more recent book of modern developments regarding Islam - Aslan does seem to be optimistic at the end of the book. I had taken copious notes as I read due to the large amount of information and discussion of the differences in beliefs among Muslims and I had to interrupt my reading to finish another book that was due at the library, so this book took me a while to finish -- but due to the notes I had taken and Aslan's writing, I was able to pick up the book later to read without disruption in the history. There were some parts of the book in which the author changes time periods and I had to stop briefly to grasp where he was - there is a fair amount of bouncing back and forth but that was probably necessary for the historical context.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Saadia B. || CritiConscience

    No god but God had been on my list for a long time and it was totally worth the wait. Reza Aslan shows a snapshot of Islam from its origin to its evolution. The book very elegantly explains this magnificent yet misunderstood faith, Islam. The clash of monotheism is from the earliest days of the Islamic expansion to the bloody wars and inquisitions of the Crusades to the tragic consequences of colonialism and the cycle of violence in Israel/Palestine, the hostility, mistrust and often violent into No god but God had been on my list for a long time and it was totally worth the wait. Reza Aslan shows a snapshot of Islam from its origin to its evolution. The book very elegantly explains this magnificent yet misunderstood faith, Islam. The clash of monotheism is from the earliest days of the Islamic expansion to the bloody wars and inquisitions of the Crusades to the tragic consequences of colonialism and the cycle of violence in Israel/Palestine, the hostility, mistrust and often violent intolerance that has marked relations among Jews, Christians and Muslims has been one of Western history's most enduring themes. Religion is an institutionalized system of symbols and metaphors that provides a common language with which a community of faith can share their numerous encounters with the Divine presence and each other. They become institutions when the myths and rituals that once shaped their sacred histories are transferred into authoritative models of orthodoxy (the correct interpretation of myths) and orthopraxy (the correct interpretation of rituals). God was originally an ancient rain/sky deity who had elevated into the role of the supreme God of pre-Islamic Arabs. God's three daughters - Allat (the goddess), al Uzza (the mighty) and Manat (goddess of fate) were usually called upon by both Arabs and Jews. The relationship between the Jews and Arabs was symbiotic in not only were the Jews heavily Arabized but the Arabs were also significantly influenced by Jewish beliefs and practices. Quraish's dominance came when an ambitious young Arab name Qusayy managed to gain control of the Ka'ba. He became the 'King of Mecca' and 'the keeper of the keys'. Muhammad understood that in order to bring about radical social and economic reforms in Mecca he had to attack the very source of Quraysh's wealth and prestige - the Ka'ba. After Muhammad's death caliphate was not meant to be a position of great religious influence rather the Caliph was responsible for upholding the institutions of the Muslim faith. Throughout Islamic history, only the Ulema in their capacity as the link to the tradition of the past have managed to retain their self-imposed role as the leaders of the Muslim society. Islam now is primarily an orthopraxis religion however because the Ulema have tended to regard Islamic practice as informing Islamic theology, orthopraxy and orthodoxy are intimately bound together in Islam, meaning questions of theology are impossible to separate from questions of law. The five pillars are meant as a metaphor, whereas the message of the Quran is vital to living a proper life. The memory of Karbala transformed the Shi'atu Ali from a political faction with the aim of restoring the leadership of the community to the family of the Prophet into an utterly distinct religious set in Islam. The Shi'ah are a community born not 'by the profession of belief in dogmas' but rather 'through the process of performing the rituals' that sprang around the Karbala myth. The Shi'te imam though lacking any political power holds a spiritual authority that sets him above any earthly ruler. It was precisely this authority that allowed Ayatollah Khomeini to impose his will upon the social, economic and political forces that led to the Iranian Revolution in 1979. For Sufis, Islam is neither law nor theology, neither creed nor ritual; it is merely the means through which the believer can destroy his ego so as to become one with the creator of the heavens and the earth. Sufism like Shi'sm was a revolutionary movement against both the Imperial Islam of the Muslim Dynasties and the rigid formalism of Islam's orthodox learned class, the Ulema. The current conflicts within the Muslim world are more related to their internal conflicts rather than between Islam and the West. Though the West tried to impose democracy on the Muslim countries which failed miserably, democracy must be nurtured from within, founded upon familiar ideologies and presented in a language that is both comprehensible and appealing to the indigenous population for it to work within the Muslim countries. The function of the clergy in an Islamic democracy should be not be to rule rather to reflect the morality of the state. Blog | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

  28. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (he/him/his)

    I feel like I was given a huge disadvantage thanks to being an American, mainly because I was five when 9/11 happened. I don't remember the day. Some people my age talk about how they remember watching it on the news in school or at home. Some say that they remember their parents. I, on the other hand, literally have no memory of that day. I can only assume it's because my mom decided not to expose me to that. However, 9/11 still affected me. I grew up hearing Islamophobic rhetoric. 1) Islam is o I feel like I was given a huge disadvantage thanks to being an American, mainly because I was five when 9/11 happened. I don't remember the day. Some people my age talk about how they remember watching it on the news in school or at home. Some say that they remember their parents. I, on the other hand, literally have no memory of that day. I can only assume it's because my mom decided not to expose me to that. However, 9/11 still affected me. I grew up hearing Islamophobic rhetoric. 1) Islam is oppressive towards women. 2) Islam is violent. 3) This is a clash of Islamic and Western ideals. 4) This is an inevitable outcome of monotheisms. 5) Democracy is incompatible with Islam. Seriously. I heard all of that shit. It was stuffed down my throat starting when I was five. Any American has heard all of this on Fox news. So, I feel at a serious disadvantage because all of those things aren't true. And, when I hear Aslan's premise, part of me balks at it. How is it not about us? Why are we getting caught up in this? They're killing us, targeting us. But, when he puts it in the context of the Christian Reformation, it makes complete sense. That was about who gets to say what it is to be Christian -- what to believe, who can say it, etc -- and this is the same thing. A fight between the schisms, which is more than Sunni/Shia split. And, it's quite amazing. I think my favorite part of the book -- besides the chapter on Sufism, because Sufism is all about love and I think everyone needs to love more, not hate -- was when Aslan completely slayed the idea that Muslims wouldn't be able to keep church and mosque separate. That's a common criticism since it ties back to some of the rhetoric I heard growing up. What Aslan says is this: One need only regard the language with which political issues like abortion rights and gay marriage are debated in Congress to recognize that religion is to this day an integral part of the American national identity and patently the moral foundation for its Constitution, its laws, and its national customs.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    Everything you ever wanted to know about Islam, but were too afraid or too benighted to ask. This book is a great antidote to the kind of ridiculous rhetoric we see about "Islamofascism" (essentially a contradiction in terms, btw) as it explores the history of Islam, and how that history is the real subject of the current divide in the Islamic world. The author's central thesis is that the collected textual and extratextual traditions of Islam, like those of any other religion, can be assembled t Everything you ever wanted to know about Islam, but were too afraid or too benighted to ask. This book is a great antidote to the kind of ridiculous rhetoric we see about "Islamofascism" (essentially a contradiction in terms, btw) as it explores the history of Islam, and how that history is the real subject of the current divide in the Islamic world. The author's central thesis is that the collected textual and extratextual traditions of Islam, like those of any other religion, can be assembled to support either values that we (non-fundamentalist-Muslims) support, or values we don't. What's currently going on (per the author) is a massive intra-Muslim conflict over the basic meaning of Islam, essentially an Islamic Reformation. What is at stake is Islam's image in the world and significance in world affairs. Most of the book is devoted to supporting this thesis, demonstrating that there's plenty for every American to love in the Islamic tradition (such as a rejection of clan and class privileges and of the oppression of women), and that there are Islamic scholars who are well aware of this and arguing for it. Needless to say, the author also indicates that the US media and government does the world a great disservice by falsely claiming that the fundamentalists are the only legitimate Islamic voices. Really we should be acknowledging Islamic moderates and championing them--even though ultimately the battle for the soul of Islam is one between Muslims, in which the US need have only peripheral involvement (if any). In some ways, the best thing we can do might just be to butt out.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jafar Isbarov

    "God may be One, but Islam most definitely is not." Reza Aslan has undertaken a gigantic task. Not only with this book, but throughout his career, he has been advocating for a reform. He believes in necessity of a reformation which will make Islamic world naturally democratic. Democracy, he argues, is not a universally perfect system. It is result of adaptations, and as long as it is to spread to a region, it is bound to adapt to cultural norms there. He outright opposes orthodox Islam, Ulama, an "God may be One, but Islam most definitely is not." Reza Aslan has undertaken a gigantic task. Not only with this book, but throughout his career, he has been advocating for a reform. He believes in necessity of a reformation which will make Islamic world naturally democratic. Democracy, he argues, is not a universally perfect system. It is result of adaptations, and as long as it is to spread to a region, it is bound to adapt to cultural norms there. He outright opposes orthodox Islam, Ulama, and the traditionalist school. While developing the thesis of the book, Reza Aslan treats Islam as "a man-made institution" well beyond what rationale of the religion justifies. His interpretation of the Qu'ran is more of a reaction to the traditionalist school in favor of the rationalists. This favoritism is blatant through the book: rationalism over traditionalism, Shi'ism over Sunni Islam, and perhaps most regrettably, moderation of Islam over its deeper, if not always pleasing, understanding. Last part is the dividing point between Reza and me. “Religion, it must be understood, is not faith. Religion is the story of faith.” The faith, I cannot neglect this no matter what, is either true or false. Reza Aslans sounds less concerned about this, or there is a bigger picture I am missing.

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